Jul 15

The Walter Becker Auction

132 comments

Edited: Sep 23

Property from the Estate of Walter Becker

October 18 and 19, 2019 | Beverly Hills, CA

With Julien’s Auctions

All auction items are now online and open for pre-auction bidding at:  https://www.julienslive.com/m/view-auctions/catalog/id/312

 

The printed catalog is also online in flip-book format at: https://www.juliensauctions.com/auctions/2019/Walter_Becker/Walter_Becker_Flipping_Book/

Julien's Summary Post with links to all relevant pages at: https://juliensauctions.com/auctions/2019/Walter_Becker/Walter_Becker_Subscriber.html

 

 

Known for his sublime and immediately identifiable guitar tone, his intimate knowledge of the tools of studio and stage, and his unique, impeccable ear, Becker is heralded as one of the most potent forces in popular music of the last 50 years.

 

“Julien’s Auctions is thrilled to offer this exceptional collection of musical instruments and gear owned and cherished by Walter Becker, the co-founder and creative genius of one of the most acclaimed and visionary bands of all time, Steely Dan, and a solo artist of uncommon uniqueness and creativity,” said Darren Julien, CEO/President of Julien’s Auctions.

 

"Walter Becker was legendary for his unique tone, his curiosity, his knowledge, his high audiophile standards, and the pleasure he took in experimenting to create just the right sonic landscape that would best support his creative and musical intentions. This fine and wide-ranging collection reflects all of these characteristics — and more — that helped make Walter Becker one of the most talented and respected all-around musicians and sonic connoisseurs of his generation."

If this event interests you, your first visit should be to Julien’s Auctions, my carefully-considered choice to handle Walter’s much beloved babies and to usher them into what we all earnestly hope are new loving and musical homes. Do your old D-Mod a solid — would you? — and send up a little wish for just that outcome?

 

That’s what Walter wanted, of course. And I like to think his legacy deserves no less.

 

The Julien’s Auctions folks have been truly spectacular, and I’ve been blown away by their knowledge, the care they are taking with this inventory, and what appears to me to be a truly above-and-beyond effort to do this one up right! They value Walter Becker, his work, his legacy, and his stuff! Wonderful!

 

Their site dedicated to The Becker Auction will be updating with details and news --- such as today's Rolling Stone piece on the auction -- and all you need to know to view the live auction online or even bid remotely, if you're so moved.

 

I strongly urge you to sign up for their newsletters and alerts! No way will we keep up with all the happenings and must-knows; So, please sign up with them if you are interested in following along.

 

No doubt I will have more to say as time goes on about what is for me, at least, a rather momentous event, although I’ll be leaving all the informative details to Julien’s, who will do a fine job of informing prospective bidders and observers.

 

But now, to no one’s surprise, I’d like to indulge in an initial observation about this collection, things you may not hear much about elsewhere, even though they speak eloquently, I believe, about the man and the cherished possessions I witnessed him acquire and use (and use! and use!!) for the last few decades.

 

And it is this:

 

I believe the collection reveals a somewhat unique aspect of Walter and his place — and reputation — in the music-making community both as a connoisseur and as a so-called “collector”; namely, his championing of up-and-coming luthiers and other sound professionals. To be sure, we find in his collection the Fenders, the Gibsons, the Guilds and the Marshalls; but we also find the Hahns, the Ian Andersons, the Grimes’, the Monty’s, the Satellites, the Dr. Zs (I’ve left out plenty of others’ names). And of course, when SD Mach 2 all began, there was that scrappy genius Roger Sadowsky already in fast mid-flight, building his his now-mighty empire.

 

Finding, supporting, and mentoring talented and aspiring professionals was important to Walter, and resulted in discovering and giving feedback on — and sometimes even helping to shape — personalized “boutique” instruments and gear, and then applying his innovative mind to benefit from their use. Watch amplifier developer Dr. Z here for an insightful and informed discussion of Walter’s use of creative and unique amps and amplification schemes, and how he would “play the amp as an instrument.”

 

His enthusiasm and creativity in wringing the best out of every noise-making contraption

he came across — well, let me tell you, it was a sight to behold.

 

There will be others along, I hope, who will speak more knowledgeably about Walter’s perhaps surprising (and not widely known) reputation within the guitar and gear community. But as far as I'm concerned, these pieces hold a special place in Walter’s collection, reflecting as they do his deep engagement with the gutsy and talented souls who help put more and better music into the world, and whom he so appreciated and valued.

 

Over and Out for now....,

D

 

Jul 15Edited: Jul 15

Wow !! This all sounds very much in order and very exciting. I was just about to ask about Walter's guitars and gear, given the recent discussions regarding his books and cd's, I now have the answer.

Yes all Walter's things need to go to good homes and I'm sure they will.

I once bid on ebay for a Walter Becker 'forward the bass' pick, won the auction and then the seller backed out of the sale, highly annoying.

Wonder if they'll be any picks on auction ? ;-)

Looking forward to seeing all the guitars and equipment online

Most auction books are 25-50 dollars, why is this one $100? Is it just guitars and gear being sold or also other memorabilia/setlists/lyric sheets? It would be cool to know if there were mods made to his amps and guitars, and curious to know what's "staying in the family" that they didn't want to part with.

@Danny Bigelow I'm not a frequenter of this kind of auction. But I haven spent a lot of time looking at auctions of western and historic memorabilia, and have come across many different auction books. My understanding is that Julien's prints a hardcover, full-color, glossy, thick paper format book that is essentially a collectable in its own right. $100 is a lot of money, but because of the sheer scope of the collection, it's almost like a history of Walter Becker's love affair with the guitar. Like the best kind of coffee table book you could ever get, I guess. I looked through Julien's previous auctions, and the other books are within the same range. So I guess when compared to $100 for pictures of Burt Reynold's jewelry, this one isn't too shabby.

Jul 15

Is it safe to say an "Ian Anderson" is a Flute?

Nope --- a favorite guitar. Red burst..he played it a lot, including at Coachella (its in a lot of those photos). Used "Ian Anderson" because there is another luthier named "Anderson"

@TBD My first thought went there as well. I was trying to figure out the Jethro Tull/Steely Dan connection. Took a little research to discover he is a San Diego luthier whose instruments are pretty coveted.

Jul 16

I knew it couldn't be that easy, my 2nd mind was a nice Ian acoustic guitar.

 

Just so interesting..

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https://www.guitarworld.com/news/guitars-and-gear-belonging-to-steely-dans-walter-becker-to-be-sold-at-auction Coverage in Guitar World. A couple of guitars pictured:

 

 

A 1957 Fender Duo-Sonic electric guitar which can be seen with Becker in a photograph used in the liner notes to the 1977 Steely Dan album Aja (estimate: $4,000-$6,000)

In addition to being the guitar Walter was holding in the Aja liner notes, this is supposedly the guitar that he used to record the Black Friday solo on Katy Lied.

 

and:

 

 

An early example of an Excel model archtop guitar, hand built by luthier John D'Angelico, with a spruce top and maple body with a sunburst finish, fitted with a Grover DeLuxe tailpiece, ebony bridge and fretboard (estimate: $10,000-$15,000)

A commenter on Facebook said about the above guitar, "An early D’Angelico Excel for 10 - 15 K owned by WB??!! I’d buy it today for that. It will go between 30 - 40 K." I just know that both of those are beautiful instruments.

Jul 17

Will all the items in the auction be eventually viewable online before the auction starts ?

I could speculate on that, but it's really a question for Julien's

Julien’s typically posts the catalogue online a few weeks before the auction.

Aside from the guitars and gear, I’m hoping you will also consider including some of Walter’s CD’s and books. As a film & TV memorabilia collector, I can telol you that Darren Julien and his team do a first-rate job cataloging and promoting their sales. You would think mundane everyday items would not be of interest to true fans, but the opposite is true. Even clothing and ID cards have value. In any event, if a WB archive is not a realistic possibility, at least his fans can buy a piece of his legacy. I, for one cannot wait to bid and hopefully win a guitar. Which guitar do you think may have meant the most to him? Did he have a favorite? Also, did Walter collect watches? Will any of his watches be offered for sale? Thank you so much for putting up this site. I love it!

Hi - One of the things we're proud of (those of us who did 18 months on inventory of his gear -- guitars, basses, amps, recording stuff etc) -- is that we wanted to contextualize and document or, more correctly, get "use-data" on just as many items as we could. Julien's seems completely in accord with this and is going to contribute with their own research. Therefore, we're hoping that catalog is going to be a true historical document, if you will, of this great collection. That's an indirect way of answering "did he have a favorite"-type questions; hopefully, with all the info that will come along with so many items -- how frequently did Walter use this guitar on tour, what guitar did he use to record x y or x, what were some of his favorite stage amp set-ups, etc., it will also paint a picture of his choices and preferences across time and also at particular moments in time. Of course that's the catalog I want to see -- something of real worth in documenting Walter's choices. Thanks for visiting :)

@Moderator: D-Mod Thank you so much for posting this! I had the pleasure of meeting Walter twice over the years — once in 1994 in Santa Ana when my ex-wife and I ran into him outside the arena before showtime and he borrowed a cigarette from my ex, who smoked. He could not have been nicer! More recently, I ran into him in Santa Monica when he was walking back to his hotel The Huntley with his daughter Sayan. Again, could not have been more gracious. Wonderful guy. I‘m not big on asking celebs to take pictures, but I really wish I had taken a picture with Walter. In any event, I am beyond excited for this auction and can’t wait to hoist my paddle in the air! If you are at the cocktail party, I look forward to meeting you in person. Best of luck with this auction! It will be a memorable event!

Great article! Thanks Matthew! I’ll be sure to check this out. I’m already plotting how I can buy that guitar featured in the AJA liner notes!

93225-WALTER BECKER STAGE PLAYED SADOWSKY SIGNATURE MODEL #1

The original Walter Becker signature model Sadowsky guitar featuring a spalted maple top and ash body with a sunburst finish. The signature model later went into production while this example was played extensively on stage by Becker. The headstock bears the serial number 5065 and is also affixed with an adhesive label with the number "1." Accompanied by a hard shell case.

 

93226-WALTER BECKER STAGE PLAYED IAN ANDERSON STANDARD GUITAR

An Ian Anderson Standard electric guitar played extensively on stage by Walter Becker. The guitar is modeled after a Les Paul standard and features a maple top and mahogany body finished in a classic cherry sunburst. The interior of the control cavity is inscribed in pencil with "The Green Danalishi/ 6-1-11/ Ian Anderson" and the headstock is affixed with three adhesive labels: one is printed with "10's"; one is inscribed "ALP"; and one is printed with "1." Accompanied by a fitted road case.

 

93216-WALTER BECKER 1969/1970 GIBSON LES PAUL CUSTOM

A late 1969/1970 Les Paul custom electric guitar with typical black finish and gold hardware. Featuring a neck volute and stamped to the headstock with serial number 910835, the headstock appears to be lacking a "Made in USA" stamp, potentiometers date to 1970. Accompanied by a potentially original hard shell case.

93217-WALTER BECKER STAGE PLAYED HAHN MODEL 229 GUITAR

This double cutaway strat-style guitar made by Hahn was a favorite of Walter Becker and was personally chosen show after show out of his extensive and rotating array of stage instruments. Finished in a distinctive green sparkle and fitted with a solid maple neck above three single coil pickups. The neck plate bears the serial number 110408 which is additionally hand-inscribed to the headstock in silver marker, the headstock has also been affixed with two adhesive labels, one printed with "11's" and the other inscribed with "HG." Accompanied by a fitted road case.

93223-WALTER BECKER 1961 FENDER STRATOCASTER

A 1961 Fender Stratocaster electric guitar with double cutaway alder body finished in sunburst, maple neck and rosewood slab fret board. Serial number 61229 stamped to neck plate. Accompanied by a potentially original hard shell case.

93222-WALTER BECKER 1952/1953 GIBSON SJ-200 CUSTOM

A 1952 or 1953 Gibson JS-200 Custom jumbo sized flat top acoustic guitar with sunburst finish. Featuring a spruce top, maple body, floral decorated pickguard, and typical inlays to bridge and fingerboard. Paper label to inside with serial number A14099, neck block stamped with order number Z2999. Accompanied by a vintage fitted hard shell case.

93212-WALTER BECKER 1928 MARTIN 00-28 GUITAR

A Martin 00 size flat top guitar with mahogany body and neck, a herringbone-banded spruce top inlaid with an unusual but likely original pickguard, ebony bridge and fret board with split diamond inlay. Serial number 35972 stamped to neck block. "C.F. MARTIN & Co./ NAVARETH.PA." stamped to backside of slotted peghead. Accompanied by the potentially original fitted hard shell case.

93214-WALTER BECKER BACON & DAY SENORITA S-6 GUITAR

A fine example of the rare Senorita S.6 model guitar manufactured briefly in the mid 1930s by Bacon Banjo. The flat top acoustic guitar features a spruce top with inlaid pickguard, finished in a dark sunburst. The pearloid headstock face, like the inlays, features incised and painted decorations and is additionally set with rhinestones. The backside of the headstock is stamped with the serial number 1147 and the interior is affixed with a paper label for Bacon Banjo Co. Inc. of Groton Connecticut. Accompanied by the original faux alligator hard shell case.

93232-WALTER BECKER 1936 D'ANGELICO EXCEL GUITAR

A fine early example of an Excel model archtop guitar handbuilt by luthier John D'Angelico. The spruce top and maple body with a sunburst finish, fitted with a Grover DeLuxe tailpiece, ebony bridge and fretboard. The headstock with delicate inlays, engraved Grover tuners, and a distinctive brass finial. Serial number 1154 (possibly 1164 or 1184) is stamped to the interior. Accompanied by a Lifton alligator hard shell case.

93213-WALTER BECKER 1955 GIBSON ES-5

A Gibson ES-5 archtop electric guitar with natural finish maple body and spruce top. Paper label to interior bearing the serial number A 20227. Accompanied by a potentially original fitted hard shell case.

93215-WALTER BECKER 1959 GRETSCH TENNESSEAN SIGNED BY CHET ATKINS

A Gretsch Chet Atkins signature model 6119 Tennessean hollowbody electric guitar. The maple body finished with Western Orange stain and fitted with a Bigsby tremolo. The pickguard is signed by Chet Atkins in white marker, inches away from the factory printed facsimile signature, paper label to interior bears the serial number 33989. Accompanied by a hard shell case.

93218-WALTER BECKER 1970 AMPEG DAN ARMSTRONG BASS

An Ampeg Dan Armstrong bass guitar with clear Lucite body. Serial number D554A. Accompanied by a road case.

93219-WALTER BECKER 1959 FENDER PRECISION BASS

A 1959 Fender Precision Bass with an alder body finished in a dark sunburst, maple neck with rosewood slab fret board. Serial number 42645 to neck plate, potentiometers date to 1959. Accompanied by a vintage hard shell case.

93221-WALTER BECKER 1958 FENDER PRECISION BASS

A 1958 Fender Precision Bass with alder body finished in a dark sunburst, gold-toned anodized aluminum pickguard, maple neck and fret board. Serial number 28649 to neck plate, there is a very faint and mostly illegible inscription to the pickguard beginning with "LERIC"..." Accompanied by a vintage hard shell case.

93220-WALTER BECKER 1965 FENDER JAZZ BASS

A 1965 Fender Jazz Bass in its original, now yellowed Olympic White finish. Chrome bridge and pickup covers have been removed but are present and included. The neck plate is stamped with serial number L70151 and the neck is dated "7NOV65A." Accompanied by a potentially original hard shell case.

93160-WALTER BECKER STAGE PLAYED JAMES TYLER CLASSIC

A James Tyler Classic model solid body electric made for, and played often by Walter Becker. The Stratocaster inspired guitar is finished in a transparent deep wine red and fitted with three single coil pickups, Schaller tremolo, a locking nut and a maple neck with slab rosewood fretboard. The neck heel is inscribed in pencil with "Becker." Accompanied by a padded gig bag.

93281-WALTER BECKER MESA/BOOGIE "KING TUBBY" SPEAKER CABINET

A custom MESA/Boogie open back 2X12 speaker cabinet which featured prominently as part of Walter Becker's on-stage rig. Equipped with two Celestion Blue alnico 12-inch speakers, clad with textured green and red tolex and fronted by a grill cover printed with an image of the legendary producer King Tubby. The cabinet is housed within a fitted road case which is stenciled with "STEELY DAN," "WALTER BECKER" and "WB-8."

93283-WALTER BECKER BOGNER ECSTACY 100B AMPLIFIER

An early Bogner Ecstacy 100B amplifier head. The three-channel, 100-watt, tube driven, hand-wired amp was a favorite of Walter Becker, along with its various successors. The white chassis and black face both have been marked with extensive setting guides in various colors. Inscribed with the serial number "/ Δ +" or 134. Accompanied by its original footswitch and housed within a fitted road case stenciled with "WALTER BECKER" and "G4."

93282-WALTER BECKER STAGE AND STUDIO USED CUSTOM SATELLITE AMPLIFIER

A Satellite amplifier head made for and used extensively by Walter Becker. Powered by two KT66 tubes, two 12AX7A tubes and running through a 5AR4 rectifier. The faceplate features controls for volume, bass and treble. The chassis is stamped with the serial number WB001. Housed within a fitted road case stenciled with "WB-20."

93156-WALTER BECKER STAGE PLAYED GIBSON FLYING V HERITAGE KORINA GUITAR

A Gibson Heritage Reissue of the 1958 Flying V finished in natural Korina, serial number C102, accompanied by a padded gig bag.

93488-WALTER BECKER 1957 FENDER DUO-SONIC FEATURED IN "AJA" LINER NOTES

A 1957 Fender Duo-Sonic electric guitar which is being played by Walter Becker in a photograph used in the liner notes to the 1977 Steely Dan album "Aja." The original finish has been stripped and left natural, the guitar is also equipped with a maple neck and fretboard, anodized aluminum pickguard and later 6-saddle bridge. The neck plate is impressed with the serial number -20617. Accompanied by the original hardshell case and a copy of the album. 

My favorite looks-wise of the above guitars is the Chet Atkins model. Just gorgeous. I wonder if the catalog from Julien's will have any more specific detail on each one, like for instance "played on the xxx album" or "used on the 2003 and 2008 tours". I would think that would be very appealing to those looking to buy them.

I love that Chet! It's Tennessee orange, which speaks to a Tennessee boy like me, it's drop-dead gorgeous, and it's SIGNED BY CHET ATKINS! I mean, owned and played by WB AND signed by CHET? How high into the pantheon of guitar gods is that?

@Matthew Kerns This guitar is amazing, but the one I really want is the guitar pictured in the AJA liner notes. It’s not the rarest or most valuable guitar, but it’s certainly the one most meaningful to me. The green guitar is another special one. I definitely remember him playing that guitar at many of the Steely Dan shows I went to. Do you know if any of Walter‘s watches will be offered for sale or is this auction only guitars and gear? Thanks!

Jul 23

@Matthew Kerns Would you happen to know if there are any nylon string acoustic guitars in the collection? Or did Walter own one ? Thanks

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Jul 23Edited: Jul 24

God bless Matt for keeping us all up on what Julien's is releasing so far to various outlets...I guess they have their own strategy what, when etc. But all please don't hesitate to email Julien's (contact info below, also on their WB auction page) with your questions (and report back their answers if any! ). It's good they see this sort of interest from the true-blues . Thanks all

 

Julien's Inquiries

Phone (310) 836-1818.

Email: info@juliensauctions.com

 

Posted "Josie, Carlton, and the "Letterman Guitar" last night, which I'm linking to here because I think the Sadowsky Walter is playing in the Letterman '95 clip might be in this auction...

 

Hey Matt... how the hell can we change the default color of links within posts to something the average human eye can see? A nice mid-purple or something, as on the FAQ

Hi, all. Haven't posted in a long while but have been lurking a bit. Been feeling a little blue vis-à-vis Walter (i.e., sad that he isn't around), and even Donald. This discussion about the auction and the others about his studio, books, CDs, papers, etc., etc., etc. are kind of driving it all home. The worldly possessions of an other-worldly talent.

 

I'm happy to read what everybody's saying. Makes me feel better. And the pictures of the guitars bring me great joy! I'm glad I can stop by here when I'm missing Walt.

 

Additionally, I'm so glad when there's a tune to download. Hearing Walter is the real balm. The newsletters are also another bright spot.

 

D-Mod, still haven't gotten my film developed. I need to get off my arse and get that done to see if there's a picture from my time with Walter at the Tokyo International Forum in 2000.

 

-- fin --

Jul 25Edited: Jul 25

Oh Hi G -- so glad you stopped by.

 

The Blues....I'm with you brother...but it's so nice for me to hear that I'm not alone; in just missing him, period; and also in the feelings that come along with auctions, archives, etc....a mixed bag--it's cool to be able to share his instruments with the world but...it can be disconcerting when inevitably we see some of the pieces getting traded around like bubble-gum cards, possibly in a few short months...

 

[Edit: That's why I so hope a lot of these things go to playing or even working musicians! But I know that may be (MAY be?!) unrealistic]

 

ssssssssssss.......

(that was that sound of me deflating in my chair a bit....

 

But fuck this noise! You've inspired me to get another clip out toot sweet. I have several in mind, but the one I'd like most next still needs an edit. (actually, they all need a little tweak in something, a job other obligations have kept us from). Matt, let's talk about how to do that, ok? I'll send you the dropbox.

 

Don't worry about that film, G, your memories sound sweet enough :-) Thanks for coming; round' glad we can make each other feel better from time to time

d

I agree. It seems like the market is very good right now for vintage instruments owned by guitar gods. I only hope that the fact that Walter played so many different instruments and can't be as readily identified with a single instrument as Eric Clapton or David Gilmour. One thing that I've been thinking about is that Walter wasn't only a world class musician, but a world class collector who assembled an unparalleled collection of electric and acoustic guitars, basses, amplifiers, and pedals. I think once the entire catalog is revealed we can better discuss just how remarkable and encompassing this collection is.

New York Showcase

Sept 9 -Sept 22

Hard Rock Cafe, Times Square

Becker gear fans on the east coast will have the opportunity to see a few Becker Auction highlights if they cannot make it to the LA Auction October 18 and 19.

If you have been keeping an eye on Julien's Becker Auction page -- you do have it bookmarked, don't you? -- you've seen the announcement of a public exhibition of a few auction highlights at the Hard Rock Cafe, 1501 Broadway - Times Square, daily 11am - 9pm, free to the public.

 

And if you haven't signed up for Julien's Newsletter yet, now is the time to do it. There'll be some fast-moving events and announcements starting in the coming days, and you'll want to be in on the news. If you sign up, they will also notify you when the Auction is Live online (which will occur a few weeks before the Live Auction itself!).

 

Whether you are interested in bidding or just following along online, visit their page for information about getting the most out of Julien's events; familiarize yourself early with the methods of bidding, and any necessary preregistrations for the different methods.

Hot damn. Will be in NY during this time and will be skulking thru the Hard Rock to ogle and remember, probably multiple visits' worth of skulks at that. Surely they will devote their mega-dB soundtrack to SD & WB tunes those days?

The Hard rock display is up. Looks yummy! SiriusXM & Fox 5 News NY were among the media that stopped by for the "unveiling". Looks like Julien's may be ramping up to use their SM some more.

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Sep 9

The view from this side of The Pond ,London, looks pretty magnificent

Sep 9

Wow! Looks great !

New Posts
  • Live now! https://www.julienslive.com/m/view-auctions/catalog/id/326
  • It was inevitable that some of the gear sold at the auction would find its way onto the reseller websites out there. Right now, it looks like there were a couple of lots where the buyer was seeking 1 specific pedal (out of several), and is selling the rest. There is also 1 of the vintage Fender Strats and a Bass Speaker. https://reverb.com/marketplace?query=walter%20becker https://www.gbase.com/gear?q=walter+becker&f=t
  • [ Howard Rodman's remarks made as keynote address on the occasion of the re-naming of the corner of 112th Street and 72nd Drive in Forest Hills, Queens as ‘Walter Becker Way.’ ] In his legendary essay, “Paris, Capital of the 19th Century,” the German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin talked about the ways in which Paris, with its boulevards, its arcades, its poets, was truly the capital of the 19th century. But an equally compelling argument can be made: that Forest Hills, the community that spreads out from the very corner on which we stand now, was indeed the capital of the twentieth. Think about it: how many of the disparate musical and cultural strains that define the second half of the twentieth century had their origins right here. Paul Simon grew up at 137-62 70th Road. Jeffrey Hyman, later Joey Ramone, grew up at 102-10 66th Road, and John Cummings, Tommy Erdelyi, Doug Colvin – later Johnny, Tommy, and Dee Dee Ramone respectively – came up a street or two away. It’s hard to think of Bridge Over Troubled Water and Beat on the Brat [with a Baseball Bat] as coming from the same planet. But in fact: they came from within blocks of each other. The Ramones and Paul Simon were not Forest Hills’s only odd pairings. Leslie West and Pia Zadora. Donna Karan and Thelma Ritter. Wilhelm Reich and Anthony Wiener. But in weighing the contribution of this piece of outer-borough soil to the country, and the larger world, we inevitably find ourselves speaking of Walter Becker. Who when I first knew him, age ten, lived right there. Like many of the friends and comrades with us this morning, we went to PS 196, whose anthem I can still sing, “PS one hundred and ninety six, we raise our voices high…” I wish Walter were here to sing the rest. Though in theory there were no ‘tracks,’ everyone knew that 5-5 and 6-2 were the IGC classes. In theory that stood for Intellectually Gifted Children. In practice: smart-ass wiseacres, using whatever intelligence we could muster in service of mocking the world into which we’d been born, fueled by transistor radios and Mad magazine. And even then, just kids in Miss Bishop’s class, in Miss Cathey’s class, Walter’s lead was the one we followed. In Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth , as deep as they go, cavern after cavern, they again and again come across a scrawl or a sign of Arne Saknussem – the 16th century Icelandic magician who’d always gotten there first. Walter was our Saknussem. There was something older about him, and most certainly wiser. He had his aesthetic down cold, as if received. And was extravagant about letting the rest of us know what to listen to, what to read, what to watch. He gave me my first Borges, my first Nabokov, my first Burroughs. He told me what movies to see. He’d toss music my way — I remember, in particular now, Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity . And if I balked, or was unreceptive, he’d say, “You’re going to like this in a year or so, so why don’t you start now and save yourself some time.” While the rest of us were (awkwardly; clumsily) fashioning our personas, his seemed always to have been there. Part Terry Southern, part Lenny Bruce, but always — as was the case with him, and not yet with us — far more than the sum of his influences. We’d drink Romilar, bought over there, and watch re-runs of The Million Dollar Movie , in his apartment right up there. Somehow, the movie was always Panic in the Year Zero . On another night Walter and my mother and me got so stoned that we listened to a record skip-skip-skip for half an hour before we realized it wasn’t intentional. An evening I had forgot entirely about, until Walter chose to recount it, forty-five years later, at a Steely Dan concert during the vamp of Hey Nineteen . At the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. In front of six thousand people. In detail, and with my mother’s name carefully pronounced. (Word travels fast. When I got home that night my fifteen-year-old son had a Cheshire Cat grin. And said, “Dad, is there anything you want to talk about?”) But back to days and nights in vintage Forest Hills. We had our peacoats, our McCreedy & Schreiber boots, we walked like this, we’d take the E train to the Village on Friday nights to hang at the Café au Go-Go. I see a few people out there who will know exactly what I mean. We were, face it, tragically hip bridge-and-tunnel teenyboppers. As John Boylan, one of Walter’s early collaborators would put it, “E train, to Forest Hills. E train, so easy to find. E train, home from the Village, let mother take care of your mind.” But Walter didn’t have a mom to come home to. Perhaps this accounts for why he was getting stoned with mine. Perhaps this accounts for how he was able to run so wild, and so free: with no mother at home, and a father so often away, and a grandmother whose threats terrified no one, Walter could do as he pleased. We’ve long recognized the astonishing, revelatory work that this enabled. But let us take a moment, too, to acknowledge the pain. He taught those of us who knew him, and millions who didn’t, how to become what he and Donald would call “gentlemen losers.” But all of that came at a real cost that neither he nor we would often want to name or to face. Which is why my favorite of Walter’s songs might be This Moody Bastard from 11 Tracks of Whack . These days it's like a tomb/ Amid in the stacks of gloom/ Looking out the window/ In the downstairs room And the time goes by/ And the time goes by/ Sometimes it goes so slowly/ You know a man could cry Till the day goes down/ In deep disgrace/ With empty pockets/ And a dirty face This moody bastard remembers/ You were some kind of friend even then Once in a great while/ He needs one... I think we all of us know what “once in a great while” means. We’re left with memories, to be sure. Glorious memories. And we’re left with the music, which is indelible, music which was never was quite in sync with its time, and because of that will never grow old. Nor will the world he limned: an unparalleled gallery of local losers, smalltime hoods, dive-bar cynics, rooming-house romantics, would-be has-beens; the autodidacts, the isolatoes; the carneys, shills, junkies, dealers, conmen, fugitives – all of them on the run from the one thing they cannot change: who they are. We feel large and uneasy empathy for them, even as we know they’re getting exactly what they deserve. We know them better than they know themselves. And Walter knew them best of all. This would be the place to mention the obvious: that if you’re looking for a top-40 hit, you don’t use as your hook, “Even Cathy Berberian knows there’s one roulade you can’t sing.” Yet Walter and Donald did, anyway, and sold forty million records, anyway. They did it not by reverse-engineering what an audience might like, but by being deeply, obsessively, cannily true to themselves. The success of Steely Dan was because, not in spite of, its celebration of the marginal. With the passage of time one learns to look past Walter’s brilliance, past his astonishing way with words and with music – strike the Mu Major chord! – past the sensibility he helped forge, past the obsessive dedication to getting it right— Past all of these to Walter’s true generosity of spirit. Reaching deep inside himself, taking the joys and pains he found there, and making them our own. As Walter Benjamin put it: “The flâneur stood at the margins of the great city. He sought his asylum in the crowd.” It took Walter Becker – indelibly cool, impossibly droll, triumphantly cryptic, unimaginably hip, with the intelligence to see life as it is, and the heart to set it down in ways that have now circled the globe it took Walter Becker to look out at this suburban landscape of postwar six-story housing, and recognize it for what it was: not a bedroom community, a bridge or a tunnel or an E-train away from Manhattan, but as something grand and glorious in and of itself. Forest Hills. A place he saw as the capital of the 20th century. And then: made it so.